Sense of place is a crucial element of not only landscape architectural design, but also of natural and evolved landscapes that we see and experience in daily life. As John Dixon Hunt’s book that is reviewed in this issue points out, there may be disagreements on whether it is inherent in a place or whether it can be created by designers, it seems clear that it is an important part of all the most appreciated places, whether they be urban or rural, natural or man made.
Louw and Dewar agree that sense of place is central to design and in their article on Sense of Place in Spatial Planning, Landscape and Urban Design Disciplines, they allude to the different ways in which different people understand the term and focus on their own understanding from a spatial design perspective, using a series of compelling sketches.
Oberholzer’s piece entitled Reclaiming Sense of Place in a Country Town also deals with urban planning and design but also discusses the issue of reclaiming or adapting sense of place, as does the article by Peres and Young which looks at how sense of place changes over time, through different users or owners and how it can evolve through landscape architectural input. These three articles illustrate clearly how sense of place can apply across many different scales.
The way in which Nature and Culture interact to inform a sense of place is central to some of the other papers in this issue. Shand, in her article on Everyday Stories, Everyday Landscapes: Exploring Sense of Place in Marginalised Urban Neighbourhoods, looks at how the lived experiences of the residents of three neighbourhoods in the City of Tshwane contribute to a sense of place in the area’s parks, but also conversely, how negative experiences can detract from the value and meaning attached to such places.
While the article on a Sense of Place in Ecologically Degraded Areas: The Case of Semi-Arid Northern Nigeria focuses on environmental changes and how attachment to a place is felt even in the face of degradation, Nyadero and Audi in their punchily titled paper Jacaranda Propaganda look at the meaning and appropriation that local residents in Nairobi attach to streets lined with trees, even exotic species. The common attraction that people feel to these street trees has led to an awareness of environmental degradation in urban environments and therefore points to the larger issue of the loss of nature in the city. The hashtag campaign is therefore used to amplify the loss of the meaning of place and the erosion of the image of Nairobi as the ‘green city under the sun’ and to promote restorative action. We see how a strong sense of place can help create a sense of community, preserve cultural heritage, and promote well-being in an urban context.
In his article entitled Searching for Common Ground in the Gardens of the Past, Anthony Wain looks at two case studies in Tajikistan and Zanzibar and tracks the progress to restore them into ‘socially regenerative, economically sustainable and culturally authentic’ spaces through an Aga Khan Trust initiative launched in 2004. The paper also treats some of the issues raised by Peres and Young, that is, honouring the past while serving the future.
Through these articles, ranging across different scales and settings, 'Sense of Place', or the Latin, Genius loci, affords people a sense of belonging, a connection to the land and its history, and a feeling of comfort and familiarity with a deep meaning to the individual. While the aesthetic qualities of a place can enhance the notion, it is not a prerequisite in feeling a spirit of place – even undesigned everyday landscapes in poor or degraded places can carry inherently within them, or solicit from them, a sense of belonging. Ultimately, the importance of a sense of place in landscape architecture design lies in creating a harmonious relationship between people, the built environment, and the natural world.
Creating or capturing sense of place involves engaging with the local context, understanding the site's history and cultural significance, and responding to its unique ecology. It also requires an appreciation for the intangible qualities, such as social interactions, memories, and emotions. By prioritising sense of place in our designs we can create spaces that are not only functional but also meaningful and memorable leading to a stronger connection between people and their environment, as well as a greater sense of community and belonging.